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RSL exposes bleak San Jose future
by Ridge Mahoney, June 2nd, 2008 11:45AM
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Frank Yallop seldom names names when his players disappoint him yet as the Quakes lost, 3-1, to Real Salt Lake Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium he didn't need to utter a word: the look of resignation on his face as he sat on the bench said it all.

Yes, San Jose took on RSL missing a few players. Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone) and Ivan Guerrero (Honduras) were on duty with their national teams, and midfielder Ronnie O'Brien sat out, presumably because of his aversion to playing on artificial turf. RSL is unbeaten at home this season, so San Jose (2-6-1) is in the same boat as a lot of teams.

But while nobody expected this expansion team to reach the playoffs and just about everybody predicted the Quakes to finish last in the Western Conference, within a month Yallop must decide when to start rebuilding for next season. The MLS contract guarantee date is July 1 and by Yallop's own admission in postgame comments, some of his players just aren't good enough.

At several positions, Yallop faces dilemmas like this one: Rookie Shea Salinas is a promising talent, yet while he's energetic and quick he's also raw and naïve. However, with O'Brien struggling to regain the form he showed a few years ago for FC Dallas, how long does Yallop stick with the veteran who has yet to get the job done?

While it's true Yallop stacked his team with experienced MLS players, most of them don't seem capable of getting over that treacherous hump that separates being competitive and getting results. Stacked against them is a run of seven road matches - of which RSL was the first - in the next nine leading up to the All-Star Game.

That road stretch includes a return to Utah four days after the Galaxy game, since that facet of the schedule - RSL is one of four teams San Jose plays three times this season - is tipped in Salt Lake's favor with two of the matches at home. And if San Jose measures its squad against that of RSL, which is hardly among the league's elite, it fails to measure up in most departments.

Goalkeeper Joe Cannon is an exception. Several excellent saves - including a snuffed penalty kick -- in the first half kept San Jose in the RSL game, yet a Robbie Findley blast beat him low to the near post and a clinical Javier Morales finish nutmegged him in a one-v-one situation.

Yet a keeper is usually megged facing a one-on-one situation, and the Quakes backline - supposedly one of the team's strengths - has given opponents too many opportunities to slot shots between Cannon's ankles. In a 3-2 loss to the Crew May 10 all three goals came with Cannon marooned. Balls over the top and threaded through the defenders are leaving the keeper stranded, and not all of them can be blamed by San Jose chasing the game once it has fallen behind.

Nobody on the Quakes has shown the ability to hold the ball and hit passes like Morales, or move the ball like Williams. There's also nobody capable of breaking up plays and get forward a la Kyle Beckerman. And despite 2008 being just his second year as a pro, Findley has looked as least as dangerous as the San Jose forwards, none of whom have topped his eight goals in 2007 in any of their MLS seasons.

San Jose central midfielders Ned Grabavoy and Ramiro Corrales are honest enough players but seldom incisive, and Joe Vide is primarily a holding type. Effective wide play has only occasionally been produced by Guerrero and O'Brien. Opponents have not only outscored the Quakes, 14-7, but outshot them, 116-89.

To supplement forwards Kamara and Gavin Glinton, Yallop has acquired John Cunliffe (Chivas USA), Ryan Johnson (formerly of Chicago and RSL), and Jovan Kirovski (Colorado). Johnson (6-foot-1, 180) is the target forward the team has lacked and he's managed to score one goal in eight games (two starts). Yallop has more bodies but as yet, few answers.

Had San Jose not used its place in the allocation ranking a month ago to acquire Peguero Jean-Philippe, whose re-injured knee has landed him on season-ending IR, it could have dickered with Chicago in the Brian McBride sweepstakes. Instead, Toronto took the top spot when San Jose used its ranking.

Now, McBride is going to Chicago in any case, yet the Quakes could have used that leverage - and perhaps a chunk of its allocation money - to get help, from either the Fire or somewhere else in the league.

Yallop still has allocation money and salary-cap room. The transfer window re-opens June 15 and the trade deadline is months away. He's always preferred to find answers to his problems from within MLS and he may yet snag solutions.

If not, come All-Star time, the work for 2009 will begin in earnest.



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